Research Initiation Award: Introducing Electrochemistry in Hydrophobic Media Using Weakly Coordinating Cations
The Historically Black Colleges and Universities-Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) Research Initiation Awards (RIAs) provide support to STEM faculty at HBCUs to pursue research at their home institution, at an NSF-funded Center, at a research intensive institution or at a national laboratory. The RIA projects are expected to help further the faculty member's research capability and effectiveness, to improve research and teaching at their home institution, and to involve undergraduate students in research experiences. With support from the National Science Foundation, an electrochemistry research program will be established at Albany State University (ASU) where teaching and research in this field are scant. Additionally, critical issues in sustainable energy research will be integrated into undergraduate education at this predominantly African American teaching institution, which serves mainly minority, underserved students. This program will link STEM education and research by integrating fundamental principles of electrochemistry with hands-on experience in renewable energy, to produce better learning outcomes and ensure success in both college and the job market for ASU graduates.
The long term goal of this project is to address issues related to renewable energy and its safe and sustainable conversion and storage in batteries for use in appropriate devices. The researchers hypothesize that electrolytes that can be used in non-polar solvents could expand the ability to test other redox-active materials, which may improve the performance of Organic Radical Batteries (ORBs) and Organic Redox Flow Batteries (ORFBs). ORBs and ORFBs offer the possibility of manufacturing lightweight and flexible devices with comparable performance but better safety than lithium-based batteries and for which increasing demands exist already. A series of weakly coordinating anions (WCAs) and cations (WCCs) featuring polysubstituted tetraarylphosphonium/tetrakis(pentafluorophenyl)borate salts will be synthesized as novel electrolytes to enable electrochemistry in low-polarity media. Electrochemical measurement will then be conducted in non-polar solvents with electrolytes designed to be soluble in the solvents, having increased ion mobility and, therefore, improved relative conductivities. Pulse radiolysis experiments including time-resolved mid-infrared studies will be employed to determine redox potentials of redox-active molecules in non-polar solvents and, possibly to measure redox potentials in an electrolyte-free environment for the first time. Redox potential determinations in non-polar environments can be applied to a wider range of fields in science and engineering, including organic synthesis, petroleum handling in pipelines, energy, and biology. The energy community will benefit from the comprehensive results of this project as newly designed electrolytes and superior measurement of redox potentials will lead to a better understanding of energy storage by electron transfer, especially as ORBs and ORFBs. This project will be conducted in collaboration with the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and BNL's Laser Electron Accelerator Facility (LEAF).
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.